While the ultimate fate of the Basque Soccer Friendly, to be held on July 30 in Boise, rests on the performance of Athletic Bilbao this weekend against Barcelona, one thing that is not in doubt is that you’ll still be able to get your Basque Soccer Friendly gear! A retail space is opening up on 8th Street in Boise. In addition to being a place where you can get your team gear, it is a place for volunteers to meet and for people interested in the match to gather. It is open Wednesday-Sunday each week. Check it out!
After all of the work that the organizers have put into arranging the Basque Soccer Friendly, scheduled to take place on July 29 in Boise, what might actually cause the biggest hiccup is Athletic Bilbao’s own success. They finished 7th in the Spanish League, meaning they qualify for the qualifiers of the Europa League, the first game of which is on July 30. There is no way they can play both games, and the Europa League comes first.
The one possible way to keep the Boise match on schedule is if Bilbao beats Barcelona next week on May 30 to win the Copa del Rey, which would give them an automatic berth in the Europa League, bypassing the qualification round and keeping the Boise game on track.
Here is a round-up of a few items I thought were notable.
Inaki Williams became the first black player to score a goal for Athletic Bilbao in their 117 year history. You may know that Athletic Bilbao only recruits Basque players, players from the Basque Country. Inaki was born in Bilbao to parents from Ghana and Liberia. Clearly his parents have pride in their new home, as they named their son Inaki.
Keeping with the soccer theme, there is an update on the effort to bring Basque soccer to Boise. The effort, lead by Argia Beristain, has secured participation by both sides. The teams have not been finalized, though it is likely to be the same Athletic Bilbao against a MLS team from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver). And, a date has been set: July 29! More details can be found here.
Irene Peralta of Munchies magazine has a five-part series on the food of the Basque Country. In 5 roughly 15 minute videos, she covers the txokos of San Sebastian, the markets, and some of the best restaurants in the world. A great introduction to Basque cuisine.
Begoña Echeverria is a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has had a long interest in Basque culture and, more specifically, the world of Basque witches. Her researches led her down a path that has culminated in a novel, The Hammer of Witches. Inspired in part by songs she heard as a child, the novel explores the life of a young woman in a small Basque town that has its share of mystery.
Canoe.ca has a series of photos of the ancient carnival of Ituren, in which men dress up as bears and other mystical creatures, a carnival centered on sheepherding. Some anthropologists argue that it is the oldest pre-Indo-European carnival still being practiced in Europe. Regardless of the origins, the photos are simply fantastic. Taking place at the end of every January, this looks like something to make a trip for.
The site fivethirtyeight has an interesting article about games for kids, with the main point that a lot of kids’ games (think Candyland) do not really challenge kids in any real way. Interestingly, they highlight the Basque card game Mus as a game that does challenge kids and is highly rated precisely for the way it encourages critical thinking and mental skills.
Anyone who has been to the Basque Country and visited any of the villages that dot the coast and the valleys between those peaks shrouded in mythology certainly knows the importance of the fronton to the Basque people. The plaza of most any town is often surrounded by the three corner-stones of Basque life: the Church, the tavern, and the fronton. I know best the one in my dad’s home town of Munitibar. Festivities may always begin with a mass at the Church, but they always center on the fronton, either a game of pelota or animal tests or a bertsolari contest. The fronton is the public space in which life happens.
The Basques who immigrated to the US brought their games with them. And, the fronton. A wonderful open-air fronton sits in my mom’s home town, Jordan Valley, Oregon. But, the oldest is in Boise. In fact, the fronton in Boise is probably one of the oldest sporting venues in the US. Like Wrigley Field in Chicago, it will turn 100 in 2014. The Jacobs-Uberuaga boarding house will turn 150 the same year. The Basque community in Boise is gearing up to celebrate these milestones, important not only in the history of Boise Basques, but Basques in the US as a whole. The fronton endures, just as the Basques have endured.
I personally am not overly familiar with Boise’s fronton. I may have stepped foot in it once as a kid. However, both Mark Bieter and Henar Chico have written wonderful testimonies about the role the Boise fronton has played in their lives. Mark describes the history of the fronton and how, to pelota players in the US, it is sort of the Wrigley Field of pelota. Henar, a newer resident of Boise, has become an aficionado of the fronton and the pala leagues that are very active. The fronton has become a very important part of her life in Boise. Both paint a picture, both past and present, of a building that has served as the cornerstone of the Boise Basque community for nearly 100 years. And, knowing the Basques, will likely be standing strong for another 100 years.
The title of this post may strike some as romantic, but really it’s just that it has been so long since Jaialdi and taken me so long to do this post, that indeed I’m working on memories, and I don’t have the best of memories in the first place…
For those that don’t know, Jaialdi is the big Basque festival held every 5 years in Boise, Idaho over St. Ignatius weekend (the last weekend in July). It brings Basques from all over the world together for a weekend of dance, music, sports, drink, and fun. In fact, many come from the Basque Country itself, drawn by old friends or the reputation of a big party in the US, including my dad’s brother Antonio and his wife Eli, the first time they’ve come to the US.
We didn’t make it to every event but we did our best. We started with Sports Night, on Thursday. I went with my brother, my dad, and Antonio and Eli. It was held right down town, across the street from the Basque Block in the same arena that the Boise hockey team plays in. It was laid out with logs for the aizkolariak and stones for the harrijasotzaileak, as well as some other typical events. Most I’d seen before, but there were a few, such as the relay carrying the heavy sack, that I did not. One event, in which contestants try to pitch a bale of hay over a bar that is raised with each successful toss, was new to my uncle. He had never seen that event in Bizkaia. At one point, two harrijasotzaileak “competed” with one another, each carrying a 100 lb stone around the arena. One had to quit quickly, possibly having pulled something. The other, though, hammed it up, engaging the crowd as he stood there, holding this huge stone in his lap. When the night was over, children rushed into the arena, finding wood chips for the athletes to sign.
It was an interesting perspective, watching these events in this crowd. On one side, I had my uncle, who is as much of a sports fan as any. However, one thing you don’t realize as a Basque-American watching these sports, which we see only every so often in typically heavy doses, is that in the Basque Country, this is every day stuff. As such, they don’t have such concentrated showings of it; festivals might have a few sporting exhibitions, but not hours worth. My uncle was getting a little bored with it, though he of course got into it whenever things got exciting. On my other side were some non-Basques who I guess had thought they’d check out some local color or something. It was interesting and a bit odd hearing their commentary. They sort of mocked what they saw, commenting on how simplistic the sporting events were, comparing them to the “sophistication” of American sports. It showed they didn’t have much of a true idea of what the Basque Country is about and how this is one slice of the sporting scene in the Basque Country, maybe somewhat analogous to a rodeo in the US West.
On Friday, after attending NABO’s Annual Convention at which the New Mexico Euskal Etxea was officially accepted as a member, we headed to the Basque Block to check out the festivities. And it was completely packed, from one end of the block to the other! I must imagine that this was the best attended Jaialdi to date! There were so many people that it was difficult to maneuver through the crowd. It was that way Thursday night as well, though during the day, the heat added a level of discomfort. But, people were singing, dancing, drinking and eating — generally having a wonderful time. Again, I wondered about the demographics of the crowd. It felt like there were just as many people who maybe had no Basque ties but were looking for a good way to spend the weekend. This is a testament to the reputation of the Basques in Boise.
During the weekend, especially during the day, festivities moved to the Fair Grounds. The official opening ceremonies were on Saturday morning and, as a representative of NMEE, I was asked to carry the New Mexico flag in the procession. While waiting for things to start, I was able to wander a little behind the scenes, where the various dance groups were organizing themselves. While adults shepherded children and tried to get them lined up in some semblance of an order, some of the groups did last minute practices of their dances. Compared to when I was a kid doing these dances, there were a lot more groups with a lot more different costumes. Especially noticeable were the girls’ dressed in blue, in contrast to the typical red, black, and white. The opening ceremonies tried to bring together all of the groups who were to perform over the weekend, including the Klika from Chino, a number of groups from the Basque Country, and of course all of the dance groups from the US. It was an awesome beginning to the weekend.
After that, all of my official duties were over, so I just enjoyed Jaialdi as much as I could. My family joined me when they were able, and overall we had a wonderful time. This year, the vendor booths were moved inside to escape the heat and that was a superb change. I remember last time that the heat (it reached 100 every day) and the wind kicking up the dirt at the fair grounds sometimes made being outside a bit unpleasant. By moving the vendors indoors, they made that part much better than it had been. A number of friends were manning booths, so it was great chatting with them, especially a few who I had only known before via Internet, not in person.
Truly, the best part of Jaialdi is seeing old friends and meeting new ones. We ran into a lot of friends from our days in Seattle, who have a group that is going very strong, thanks in large part to the influx of new Basques into the area, who I had the great pleasure to meet. We also ran into Joseba Etxarri, who is still a big fixture in many Basque festivals in the US. One notable absence was Aita Tillouis, who passed away recently, but who was always a big presence in so many Basque gatherings. But, it is the friends that make Jaialdi such a wonderful experience and, I have to admit, one of the things I lamented just a little. Jaialdi has grown so big, it is less intimate, with so many people that you don’t bump into a friend around every corner, at least not as much. Maybe for people who live in Boise it isn’t that way, but it was a little more that way for me than it had been in years past. That said, it was still an awesome weekend and I’ll definitely be attending the next one in 2015.
1932: Mari Carmen Totoricaguena Egurrola Albizu, founder of Anaiak Danok and Biotzetik in Idaho, is born in Gernika. She also directed a chorus of Basque children for 20 years and organized the Aberri Eguna celebrations in Boise, Idaho. She immigrated to the United States in 1951.